At your house, you deal with “good” grass, crab grass, weeds, and that’s pretty much it. At golf courses, we get more technical—and we should. Half the battle in creating a good golf course is knowing what you have, how to care for it, and how to add to what’s already there. For a golfer that simply plays the game, it’s great knowledge to have.
A big part of grass and why it matters is how it holds up against the weather. The same type of grasses that stands up to Florida heat and weather wouldn’t stand a chance against a Minnesota fall, let alone winter. While much of this is to be considered by greenskeepers and superintendents, there can be an advantage to knowing the type of grass and how to play off it.
Some grasses are greener than others. At first glance, a course might look less than spectacular because of a lighter color than you’re used to, but could be the best course around. On the other hand, just because a course is green does not mean playing conditions are ideal. Again, this isn’t possible without basic types of grass used on golf courses knowledge.
Bermuda grass is found exclusively in regions that stay warm all year long. It thrives in areas where rain is abundant, but can also go long periods without water and still spring back to life with a little hydration. If you were to throw this down on a northern golf course, it would look fine. But, come winter, it would be wiped out and not return the next season.
Bermuda grass is characterized by slender and long leaves.
With Bermuda grass, grain matters. When hitting the ball down-grain, it will feel like the ball flew off your club when it lands. Going into the grain makes you feel like you crushed it, but it immediately comes to a halt when it lands. This is amplified around the greens, when a foot or two makes a difference. Just like reading a putt on the green, take a walk up and peek at how the grass is sitting before chipping on Bermuda grass.
Bentgrass is a staple of Northern US golf courses. This type of grass comes back each year, even after winters that include snow and ice. For those without confidence on the putting green, beware. The stimpmeter on bentgrass greens can easily get into the double digits.
Compared to Bermuda grass, bentgrass is cut higher, making it more noticeable when a grain slopes one way or the other. People will talk about the differences between putting on different types of grass, but with bentgrass, you’re tested in the rough. Longer grass means the ball can sit further down. It also tends to be harder to get the clubhead through the rough and can be somewhat unpredictable.
- Kentucky Bluegrass
Naturally, this type of grass is easily identified by the color it takes on. Kentucky bluegrass ranges from normal green to an almost emerald-like color, to an actual blue tinged grass.
Kentucky bluegrass goes dormant in the winter, only to spring back to life when growing season begins again—a major benefit for courses in colder areas. One of the biggest concerns with Kentucky bluegrass can be cutting it too short. When it’s allowed to grow a bit, it thrives. As a result, this type of grass is reserved for fairways and roughs, not greens and tees.
The color of Kentucky Bluegrass can have a tinge of blue.
With this type of grass, what you see is what you get. There’s no special tricks or tips. As long as the ball is visible in the rough, you’ll have no problem getting through it.
Ryegrass is a one-size-fits-all solution for course superintendents. Perennial and annual ryegrass requires a fair amount of upkeep to keep damage and disease away. When properly maintained, it’s a great option for just about every grass-covered surface on a golf course.
Perennial and annual ryegrass is not without its faults. Ever see a blade of grass with brown spots up and down it? That’s gray leaf spot, a sign of imminent danger to ryegrass. If you haven’t seen it, it reminds me of an ear of corn before it’s shucked, but also after it’s been sitting for a while and the green casing begins to brown. Grass or corn, it’s not a good sign for either.
A close-up example of Ryegrass.
Capable of growing in multiple regions and climates, there’s a good chance you’ve played several rounds on ryegrass. However, it is best suited for mild climates and most common in middle America. In many ways, it’s a default setting for golf courses.
What’s a great grass that needs minimal water? Zoysia grass. Golf courses like to minimize their ecological footprint all the while providing great golf conditions. This is made easy by Zoysia grass which easily stays green, can survive long periods without rain, and stands up well to excessive use.
Since Zoysia grass can be cut very low and survive, it is commonly used on fairway, greens, and tees. It is most common in warmer areas, but is more durable than other types relegated to a specific region. However, in many cases, Zoysia is an alternative to Bermuda grass.
Zoysia grass can be cut very low and needs minimal water.
What we like most about Zoysia is how well the ball rolls. If you have a shallow swing, hitting from the fairway comes with minimal resistance and it’s not uncommon to not take a divot. We also like when it’s used on tees as it’s easy to hit hybrids and woods without teeing the ball.
- Poa Annua
Sometimes a competitor and other times a friend of bentgrass, poa annua is built for colder climates and can survive all seasons. In fact, some golf courses end up with too much of this and try to fight back by overseeding bentgrass.
Poa annua is great for courses with a lot of trees as it does not need much sunlight to survive. While your hitting balls into the woods due to tight conditions, poa annua does not mind heavy tree coverage.
Poa annua thrives in shade, but needs to watered frequently, especially during the warmer months or it runs the risk of drying out and turning brown. Given that it’s used on shorter areas (mostly greens), this is not surprising. On the same note, poa annua greens are not always fast and require more precision with distance than others.
What is fescue?
Fescue is not one single type of grass, but a term used by golfers for grass not kept or mowed. It’s tall, usually thick, and you’ll immediately groan when you see your ball bounce into it. Hard to describe, but you know it when you see it.
These are areas of grass while not considered hazards, have a high likelihood of ballooning your score because of the difficulty a shot out of it presents. When you hit a shot into fescue, be sure to keep a close eye on it. Since the ground is usually uneven and the grass tall, it can be hard to find your ball.
Remember what happened to Will Zalatoris during the Open Championship when he got caught in the high grass? He was barely able to get the club through the grass, and was injured as a result.
Fescue is a “natural” defense of a golf course. Unlike trees which take years to be any type of challenge, or thick rough which takes intense upkeep, fescue is natural grass. For the most part, a course superintendent can set it and forget with fescue. When it grows in thick and high, hitting out of fescue is harder to escape than thick woods.
As a general note, fescue harbors many insects. Speaking for where I play, fescue has plenty of ticks. Once you hack your ball out, be sure to check your clothes and any exposed skin for these.